Birkat Hamazon 6

  • 50 minutes.
  • Grades: 7-8
  • Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will learn about the Temple and the role that Birkat Hamazon plays in mourning and coping with its loss.


Students will focus on the third paragraph of Birkat Hamazon, and place Birkat Hamazon into a post –Temple context. Birkat Hamazon will also be approached as one substitute for Temple worship.

Lesson objectives

Content: Students will be able to…

  1.  Read the first three paragraphs of Birkat Hamazon with understanding.
  2. Describe the role that Jerusalem and the Temple played in the lives of the Jewish people.
  3. Identify these as main themes in Birkat Hamazon, as seen in the third paragraph.
  4. Relate the circumstances in which the Temple was destroyed.
  5. Describe how Jews now serve God with prayer, since they cannot bring sacrifices to the Temple.
  6. Read Psalms 137 and 126 with understanding.
  7. Relate the content of these Psalms.
  8. Compare and contrast the Psalms.
  9. Explain why Psalm 137 is the daily introduction to Birkat Hamazon and why Psalm 126 is said on Shabbat.
  10. Explain how saying these Psalms is a form of mourning for the Temple.


Students will be able to compare and contrast Psalm 137 and Psalm 126.



Students will be able to…

1. Appreciate the centrality of the Temple to the Jewish people.
2. Understand how the loss of the Temple was devastating to the Jewish people.
3. Appreciate how saying these Psalms is a form of mourning for the Temple.

Resources & Equipment needed

  • Large map of the world
  • Copies of Birkat Hamazon with Shir HaMa’alot (Psalm 126) and Al Naharot Bavel (Psalm 137) included


  1. Ask the class: in which direction do we pray? With a large map of the world, work out which direction Jews in various different countries pray towards (e.g. Alaska, Argentina, Far East, Israel itself, people in Jerusalem, and then people who are standing at the Kotel – i.e. towards the Temple mount). Discuss the reason for this. Look inside the text of Birkat Hamazon and read the first three paragraphs. Make sure students see the focus on Jerusalem and the Temple. Note: 1st paragraph = universal, 2nd = Land of Israel, 3rd = Jerusalem and Temple.
  2. Analyze the 3rd paragraph. Ask students why Jerusalem and the Temple is an important theme to have in Birkat Hamazon. Mention that land is central to Birkat Hamazon because it is the source of food. Review the main concept of the last lesson (i.e. Judaism maintains that in every action/object there is a potential for holiness and therefore, Jewish life is structured around the attempt to realize this potential in every deed) and explain how food was used in serving God as in Temple times (i.e. sacrifices).
  3. Discuss the role and purpose of the Temple. Describe the Temple’s physical appearance and what it contained. Note that the root of korban (sacrifice) is kuf-resh-bet (meaning: to draw close) and that the root of olah (a type of sacrifice) is ayen-lamed-hey (meaning: elevation). Thus, the Temple is a way to draw close to God.
  4. Make sure the students are aware of the circumstances in which the Temple was destroyed. Ask how we communicate our thanks to God without being able to offer sacrifices in the Temple. If students do not know, explain that the synagogue with its many objects and concepts has become a replacement for the Temple. The bimah is like the altar, the prayers are like sacrifices, etc.
  5. Analyze Psalms 137 and 126. Compare and contrast them (see sample chart below). It may be worthwhile to have the students work in small groups to fill in a chart similar to the one below.
  6. Conclude by asking the students why they think that the Rabbis selected Psalm 137 to introduce Birkat Hamazon during the week, and why Psalm 126 introduced Birkat Hamazon on Shabbat. Explain that remembering the Temple, with its relevance to the sanctification of food, is central to Birkat Hamazon but that mourning is forbidden on Shabbat.
  7. If there is time: Ask students if there are any other rituals or laws that remind us of the destruction of the Temple. These may include the Israel/Temple/Messianic focus in the Amidah, 17th Tammuz/9th of Av/the three weeks, crushing of glass at Jewish weddings. Teachers may wish to consult or provide the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Siman 126 – “Commemorating the destruction of the Temple.”
  8. Homework: The students should consider the following question: If you could introduce Birkat Hamazon with any theme, what would it be? The students should write a short paragraph/poem, containing the theme. Compare/Contrast Psalm 126 Psalm 137Prayer Times – introduction to Birkat Hamazon – Shabbat, holidays, special events – introduction to Birkat Hamazon – weekdays
    Themes – exile and the return – the centrality of Zion – other nations praise God – Israelites mourning the loss of their sovereignty (exile) – the centrality of Jerusalem – other nations ridicule God’s people
    Mood – joy – hope – sadness, – exhaustion – hopelessness.